Mitigation on State-owned Aquatic Lands
Washington's shorelines and aquatic resources are important for the critical habitat they provide to a host of plant and animal species, and for human development. It is crucial to balance these two functions. The mitigation process is used to help ensure environmental protection when permitting or authorizing the design, construction, and operation of development activities.
There are three basic steps to mitigation: avoidance, minimization, and compensation.
- Avoidance - when a certain action, or parts of an action are not taken or are re-designed to eliminate possible adverse impacts.
- Minimization - refers to provisions implemented to reduce the degree or magnitude of anticipated impacts.
- Compensation - occurs when impacts are considered "unavoidable" and all practicable attempts to avoid and minimize have been taken, then actions must be taken to compensate for all remaining adverse impacts.
For DNR's aquatic resources management, compensatory mitigation generally takes the form of restoration, enhancement, creation, and/or preservation of aquatic habitats.
The Washington State Department of Ecology, Army Corps of Engineers, and the Environmental Protection Agency have developed draft guidance for Mitigation in Washington State that provide appropriate sources for additional information.
DNR and Mitigation
For any projects authorized on state-owned aquatic lands, DNR's administrative rules (WAC 332-30-107(6) dictate that all substantial or irreversible impacts must be fully mitigated. Representing the public as landowner, DNR works with federal, state, and local regulatory agencies to help ensure that potential adverse impacts are mitigated through the regulatory permitting process. One such example is DNR's work with the state Department of Ecology's Office of Regulatory Assistance on efforts to streamline permitting and provide applicants with a "one stop" location for environmental permitting needs. Through DNR's Environmental Review Process, the agency endeavors to provide early comment on projects that may impact state-owned aquatic lands so that full mitigation can be incorporated into regulatory permits.
In order to ensure environmental protection, if necessary, DNR may require additional mitigation when authorizing for the use of state-owned aquatic lands. DNR Aquatics is working on guidance for mitigation related to management of state-owned aquatic lands.
Mitigation banking is an alternative strategy to the traditional method of compensatory mitigation. Generally, the impact-producing project proponent compensates for impacts from a project with mitigation in the area near where the impacts would occur.
In mitigation banking, an operator of a mitigation bank performs aquatic habitat restoration, enhancement, creation, and preservation on a site in advance of any project-specific impacts occurring. Based upon the environmental benefit, or lift, achieved through the habitat improvement efforts the mitigation bank operator is granted "credits." These mitigation credits may then be sold to the proponents of impact-producing projects to provide compensatory mitigation for unavoidable impacts. A banker may only sell credits from a bank to impact-producing projects within a predefined service area, normally within the same watershed. Some of the benefits of mitigation banking are that instead of having relatively small, fragmented compensatory mitigation projects, habitat improvement projects are consolidated into a large contiguous site, which provides environmental and management benefits. Further, mitigation banks are established prior to the impacts occurring, which helps to eliminate any temporary losses of habitat function due to impact-producing projects.
The primary agencies responsible for mitigation banking in Washington are the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, state Department of Ecology, and to a lesser extent the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Along with representatives from these three agencies, DNR Aquatics staff represent the agency as a standing member of Washington's Mitigation Bank Review Team. The review team is responsible for reviewing, and if worthy, approving proposed mitigation banks in the state to ensure that they are designed, constructed, and operated appropriately. The team also determines the number of credits a bank generates.
For more information, see Washington State Department of Ecology and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers mitigation banking web pages.